Is Mideast Sleepwalking … into a War?

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

YOU may fool some people some of the time, counseled Abraham Lincoln, but not all the people all the time.

The earthy wisdom of the US president credited with uniting America and ending slavery has been repeatedly challenged by his own country. 

Seems you can’t just fool all the people all the time, you can get away with murder by lying through your teeth.

What happened in Iraq eight years ago appears all set to repeat itself as the Western powers gang up against Iran. And you thought the world has learned its lessons from the catastrophe of Iraq.

Savaged by the trillion dollar wars being waged by the US and its NATO allies, coupled with the open loot and corruption on the Wall Street, the world economy is battling for its life.  Look at the God-awful mess in Europe. Who would have thought a decade ago, or at the time of Western invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the rich European Union and its much-wanted euro would be faced with the calamity they are facing today? Even the “with-us-or-against-us” leader of the free world, who had persuaded himself he was on a divine mission to save Israel from its imagined enemies, seemed to have his share of doubts about the whole circus when he left the White House.

Of course, those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have piled up to attack the peace-loving, democratic state of Israel are yet to be found, not to mention the million plus Iraqis who have paid with their lives for the Oedipal insecurities of the most powerful man on the planet.

Yet here we are back once again sleepwalking, eyes wide shut, toward yet another calamitous showdown. It’s déjà vu all over again as the Goebbelsian propaganda machine bombards us with the characteristically disingenuous fiction masquerading as “facts” and “expert opinion” about the clear and present danger the world faces from Iran.

Just as the UN and its numerous experts were used to build the case against Iraq, IAEA’s services are being employed today to corner Tehran. In its latest report, the UN nuclear watchdog suggests Iran may have developed necessary know-how and expertise to build a nuclear weapon after receiving “critical support from foreign scientists.”

Since when has knowledge become a crime? In doing so, the IAEA has trashed its own findings and numerous reports by its experts presented over the past decade following endless visits to Iran’s nuclear sites, ruling out the possibility Tehran is working on the bomb — a fact corroborated by America’s own intelligence agencies in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The latest IAEA report is based on the “evidence” provided by a Russian scientist, who is supposed to have helped the Iranians in building the detonation system for nuclear weapons, and data found on a stolen laptop! Russia, which has helped Iran with its nuclear power program over the years, has dismissed the claim and IAEA report with utmost contempt. Tehran has, of course, rejected the IAEA report as being stage-managed by the West. Considering the US contributes 26 percent of the IAEA’s annual budget and has many US officials serving in senior positions, the Iranian claim is hardly exaggerated, especially after the Russian “nuclear weapons expert” has turned out to be a specialist in the production of nanodiamonds!

The IAEA, instead of enforcing Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and confronting big powers on their hoards of nukes, is increasingly acting like a US government outfit. Unlike Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has allowed regular international inspections of its nuclear sites.

But we have been here before, haven’t we? In the run up to the Iraq invasion, many such experts were produced out of Uncle Sam’s hat.  From the fiction of Iraq sourcing uranium from Niger to Blair’s claim of Saddam being within the 45-minute striking distance of a WMD attack on the UK, the history of colonial deceptions is endless. And thanks to the blessings of Internet, every blatant lie and every piece of the charade that passes for international diplomacy in the run-up to the Iraq 2003 has been preserved for posterity. Just Google and see for yourself. The resemblance with Iran 2011 is uncanny.

The same saga of subterfuge and plotting continues against Iran, notwithstanding the historical irony that it was the US and Israel that had helped Tehran build its nuclear program in 1970s, in an attempt to check the Arabs. Indeed, Israel was supposed to supply Reza Shah Pahlavi with missiles and nuclear warheads. The program was abandoned in haste when the people power threw the Shah out in 1979, forcing him to seek refuge with the very Arabs he loved to hate. His old friends in the West had spurned him, just as they recently abandoned Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi.  The Shah died a broken man in Cairo in 1980, only a year after the Revolution.

What cruel irony of history that today the same Arabs are being hammered into believing that the Islamist Iran, and not Israel and its powerful partisans with a large nuclear arsenal and a long history of aggression, is their worst enemy!

For eight long years, George W. Bush and the fellow crusaders obsessed over Tehran dreaming of doing an Iraq to Iran. Not because the long sanctioned Iran with its archaic weaponry and crippled economy was a threat to world peace but because Israel said so. Indeed, but for the “shock and awe” that the empire faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran might have been the third front in America’s war.  And the irony of ironies, the man who as a senator voted against the Iraq invasion eight years ago, is now parroting and reading from the same hymn sheet that his predecessor did. The script of the Middle East’s theater of the absurd remains unchanged; only dramatis personae have changed. As Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who exposed his own government’s game on Iraq, puts it, it’s the same bull…. with a different president!

So as Israel steps up the beating of war drums on Iran with the politicians in the US competing with each other to woo the Zionists, can Obama afford to be left behind? So promising more “effective” sanctions against an already much punished country over the past 33 years, he thunders “all options are on the table,” reminding one of W’s rhetoric. So much for the audacity of hope!

The irony of it all may not be entirely lost on the Nobel laureate president. But with the reelection battle fast approaching and all Republican hopefuls, except Ron Paul and Herman Cain, promising to hit Tehran, how can Obama appear “weak on national security”? The rejection of the Palestinian state was part one of the strategy for the Jewish vote and money. An attack on Iran would seal the pact with the devil.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on the Middle East and South Asian affairs. Write him at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

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Marriage 101

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

The wedding-cake-recipe-ideas divorce date, in the Middle East, has spiked considerably over the past few years, which has sounded the alarm for many of the conservative Islamic governments. In Saudi Arabia, the rate of divorce has escalated by almost 15% from 2008 to 2009. And in Kuwait, the divorce rate has skyrocketed to a whopping 187% over the last 23 years making it the highest rate of divorce in the entire world according to recent statistics released by the government. Most countries in the Middle East take a backseat role when it comes to divorce, leaving couples to figure it out for themselves. However, one country seeking to nip the notion of divorce in the bud, even prior to the marriage, is Iran.

Statistics on the Iranian divorce rate are sparse given the cultural and language chasm between the West and Iran, however a 1992 study by Sanasarian indicated that about 10% of Iranian marriages end in divorce (family.jrank.org), while according to divorcemag.com, less than 1 out of every 100 Iranian marriages end in divorce.

Regardless, Iran’s government-backed National Youth Organization has recently inaugurated its very first online pre-matrimonial course.  According to the group’s mission statement, the online course will seek to assist young Iranians in finding their perfect marital match while also maintaining strict Islamic values, which frowns upon premarital dating or relations of any kind. The organization also has high expectations, by educating Iranian youth prior to marriage, to cut Iran’s rate of divorce drastically.

The course is held, for free, in virtual classrooms online and lasts for 3 full months. Designed by top Iranian professionals and Islamic scholars, the course highlights the dangers of relationships out of wedlock and upholds arranged marriages as the best recipe for living happily ever after. Participants in the online course must also take a weekly test and, based on how well they do, will receive a diploma in the union of marriage.

However, since its inception, there is very little information known about the specifics of what the course teaches which has whipped critics into a frenzy. At the launch of the program a very general syllabus was released to the media, which provided more questions than answers. In a recent interview, well-known Iranian sociologist Shahla Ezazi said, “Awareness is fine but the question is what kind of a family they are seeking to promote.” In a blatant attempt to quell any controversy, the head of the National Youth Organization Mehrdad Bazrpash summated, “Marriage needs hundreds of hours of education.”

Iranian officials have also used the launch of the program as a soapbox to discourage harmful and extravagant practices when it comes to Iranian weddings, such as exorbitant dowries and expensive weddings that most families cannot afford. And to seal the deal in cementing the union of marriage, President Ahmadinejad has recently promised to give priority to employing newlyweds and providing affordable homes for recently married couples. Quite notably, the age in which Iranians now get married has increased exponentially due to financial circumstances and familial problems. For centuries, most Iranians would get married in their early twenties and today most Iranians marry in their late twenties or even early thirties. More and more couples in Iran are delaying their marriages indefinitely until the time is right or until they can afford to get married.

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Students Report on Islam in Unique Course

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Alexandra Carter, UPIU.com

img_3376_large_square geri zeldes

Left:  Students speak with Professor Geri Alumit Zeldes after the “Reporting on Islam” class at Michigan State University; Right:  Professor Zeldes distributes graded story revisions for the “Reporting on Islam” course.

Photos by Alexandra Carter

 

EAST LANSING, Mich., Dec. 11 (UPI) — A new course at Michigan State University teaches students how to deal with the complexities of reporting on Islam in a post-Sept. 11 world.

This semester, students wrote about holiday celebrations and about how Muslim students feel about American university life. They also analyzed news reports on Islam from around the world in the new, “Reporting on Islam” course at Michigan State University.

“[The course] definitely made me uncomfortable at times, but honestly, that is how I know it was worthwhile,” said Dan Redford, a student. “It helped me experience a part of the world and this country that I never had before.”

Students uploaded the stories they wrote and the photos they took to UPIU.com, a service of United Press International for university students. Professor Geri Alumit Zeldes said that she wanted the class to submit its stories to UPIU to “have an outlet, other than me, to share their stories.”

Of the 14 registered students in the course, half had at least one of their stories published online through UPIU. Student Andrew Norman’s story on Islamic punk music was featured in blog in The San Francisco Sentinel and Wall Street Journal.

Student Brian J. Bowe said that using Web tools such as Skype to talk to people in other countries helped “shrink the world,” an exciting aspect of the course.

“Those classroom interactions with people in places like Iraq, Iran and India enriched the experience for me,” Bowe said. “One of the problems in media portrayals of Islam is that we’re frequently talking about Muslims, but not to Muslims. Using technology, we were able to bridge cultures and have very profound dialogues.”

Students also talked to Muslims who live in Michigan as sources for some articles.

“I found our visit to [the Islamic Center of East Lansing] highly beneficial. I would have been timid about going there alone,” said student Jennifer Hoewe. “Since I was joined by my classmates and welcomed by those who attended the mosque, I felt comfortable enough to go again by myself later in the semester as part of an article I wrote.”

The new class comes as students across the United States are showing more interest in Islam and in academic topics affiliated with the faith. Three of the students in “Reporting on Islam” studied Arabic, two of them through the university’s Arabic department, which had roughly 150 students enrolled in classes this fall.

Several of the students in “Reporting on Islam” also are in the Muslim Studies specialization program, which was created by Professor Mohammed Ayoob after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The reporting course was just one of many offered this semester under this specialization, along with classes in arts and humanities, public affairs, religion, political science, anthropology and sociology.

“Reporting on Islam” is a good first step for many students to continue learning about the topic, said Zahkia Smith, a student.

“I think what’s most important coming out of this class is that the very best way to know how to report on Islam is to get involved and actually step into the Muslim community,” Smith said. “The class gives you the right tools. The completion of the class is the signal to dig further.”

“Reporting on Islam” is a pilot course offered jointly through Michigan State’s School of Journalism and its Muslim Studies program. It was started with a grant from the Social Science Research Council, a national non-profit group. In addition, the course is part of the Islam, Muslims, and Journalism Education program, a project on the Internet funded by the same grant that has a goal to generate accurate and balanced reporting.

Similar courses have been taught at other American university campuses, Zeldes said. For example, Marda Dunsky, instructor of Islamic World Studies at DePaul University, teaches the “Reporting the Arab and Muslim World” course.

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Visitors Throng to Southeast Michigan Mosques

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

4 Warren–October 17–Seven local mosques opened their doors to welcome non-Muslim community members and TMO was present at one of the mosques, IONA on Ryan in Warren.

The mosque was incredibly beautiful, looking like a museum.  There were hand written copies of Qur`an, calligraphy, Islam-related videos playing, many items with Qur`an  engraved in them.

Perhaps 1000 square feet were cleared and in that space were tastefully separated displays, with enough space to walk between them and enough displays to take a visitor perhaps 45 minutes to take in everything  if they read everything.

There were several floor-stands chock full of calligraphy and explanations of Islam for the visitors, as well of course as tea and other refreshments.

“Many of the people asked us what Islam says about Jesus,” explained Waheed Rashid, one of the IONA volunteers/officials at the event.  They were very surprised, he said, to learn there is a chapter of Qur`an named after Sayyida Maryam.

The visitors included one sociology teacher and two local pastors.

“If just one person had come, it would have been worth it,” said Amin Varis, IONA’s outreach director.

An interesting idea was IONA’s giving of Sunnah-related foods on its table, with explanations of each of the ahadith about the items.  There was honey, black seed, and dates, as well of course as Middle Eastern refreshments like baklava, other sweets, and tea.

1 “Eat olive oil and anoint yourself with it since it is from a blessed tree.” 

“Honey is a remedy for every physical illness and Qur`an is a remedy for every spiritual illness.  Therefore I recommend to you both as remedies–Qur`an and honey.”

“Feed your pregnant wife with dates, she will surely give birth to a baby who is patient, well-behaved, and intelligent.”

“Use this black seed regularly, because it is a shifa for every disease except death.”

About 35 local people visited IONA during the course of the day, leaving behind their signatures in the welcome book. 

Amin Varis explained that the mosque had arranged for recent converts to welcome each of the visitors and guide them around, explaining the displays.  “People more like Americans, converts…  understand” the visitors better.

“We were really surprised,” he said, “some people were here for an hour–they showed lots of sincerity.”

Other mosques were also very successful in the outreach effort, with Canton’s MCWS mosque receiving over 100 visitors.

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